Let’s be honest about Natural Family Planning. It’s not always a joy to practice. And I say that as someone who, with my wife, Vera, has been practicing it for three decades.
Over that time, I have come to think of NFP along the lines of Winston Churchill’s description of democracy. The great British statesman said, "Democracy is the worst form of government ever invented – except for all the others." NFP is likewise the best worst thing ever.
I realize that putting it this way may upset some of its practitioners, but putting it any other way is unfair to newlyweds. We need to be honest with young couples. We need to tell them that marriage comes with special challenges that single people might not appreciate.
Married couples want to be responsible parents, so they want to make sure they reproduce on purpose. (Sure, there are some who say that they are willing to let God plan their families and that is, under the right circumstances, laudable. But prudence in procreation is no vice.)
Young marrieds (and older marrieds as well) also need healthy sex lives to keep their marriages strong. That is what the "two flesh union" is all about, after all.
As human beings, these two priorities – sex and childbearing – will inevitably come into conflict.
Being a human being means that bodily activities have built in effects. If you take in more calories than you burn, you’ll get fat. If you drink alcohol when you’re dehydrated, you get hungover. And if you have sex while fertile, you’re eventually going get pregnant.
Chances are there will come a time when a married couple will want to have sexual relations when the wife is fertile. For newlyweds, this is likely to happen within 30 days of their nuptials, if not sooner. It may even happen on their honeymoon. It’s hard not to be sympathetic to a couple on their honeymoon who are looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime roll in the hay, only to have the new bride announce that she is in the middle of her fertile period.
It’s easy to say that they should simply throw caution to the winds. Or to say that, if they are not ready to have children, they shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. As a father of nine children, however, I think this is a little unfair. Some young couples have fought to remain chaste over a long courtship, and now want to enjoy the joy of sex while paying off their student loans before welcoming children. Are they wrong for wanting to be financially prudent. I don’t think so.
If they are worried about conceiving, their options are limited. Because the thing is, they can’t avoid pregnancy for free. They can sacrifice frequency, taking time off during fertile periods. They can sacrifice intensity, using barrier methods. They can sacrifice health, using chemical methods. They can sacrifice bodily integrity, using surgery.
The Catholic Church frowns on these last three, as everyone knows. This is because they are not good for you, spiritually, emotionally, or physically. And God, acting through His Church, always wants what is good for you. They are not good for women, especially. While some men take the burden of contraception upon themselves, the majority of the time this falls to the woman. Women are expected to keep to a daily regimen of asbestos-level carcinogens (also known as birth control pills). Or they are expected to have anti-fertility devices installed in their reproductive system (IUDs). Or they are expected to get surgically altered.
Considering the failure rates of the varying methods, and the harmful side effects caused by each, contraception is simply not the most responsible way to plan your family.
With an intelligent method of NFP, the man and woman cooperate in family planning. Not only that, they evaluate their family plan on a daily basis. They learn how to communicate on the most important joint initiative they will ever undertake together: the creation of a dwelling place for an immortal soul. Or, preferably, a whole half dozen or so.
When they do decide to try to achieve pregnancy, all they have to do is adjust their sex habits. Unlike chemical or surgical contraception, which can have lasting effects on fertility (and ruin a marriage), NFP puts control of their fertility in their hands, allowing them to start or stop as they see fit.
Is NFP fun? Goodness no. Especially not at the beginning, when many young couples would like to have sex practically every day. Like any human activity involving discipline, be it exercise, dieting, or training, it involves sacrificing convenience and something good for the sake of something better.
But over time the great benefits of NFP become more and more obvious. By working together through the inconvenience of delayed sex, the couple gets stronger in dealing with hardships as a team, and can better face the ups and downs in life together.
If they stick with it for a year or two, they will begin to appreciate what they’re gaining through it. It stops being a burden, and becomes a part of their relationship, bringing them more closely together than they ever imagined possible. Couples who practice NFP have great marriages. They almost never divorce.
Trust us. NFP is simply the best worst thing ever!
Steven W. Mosher
is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits.